For several decades smoking on planes has been banned: this applies to both passengers and pilots. That is why he has been surprised by a story in which an Air China pilot would have lowered his plane while trying to hide that he was smoking an electronic cigarette.
According to what the BBC reports, the first officer of Air China’s CA106 flight accidentally shut down the Boeing 737’s air conditioning system, causing insufficient oxygen levels in the cabin. The action caused his plane to make an emergency descent in search of breathing air.
The CA106 flight took off from Hong Kong on Tuesday evening at 7:10 p.m., local time, to the city of Dalian, in northeastern China. FlightAware.com flight tracking website data shows that the Air China plane was heading northeast at 35,000 feet when it started to descend around 7:39 p.m. By 7:57 p.m. (18 minutes), the airplane had descended to only 12,300 feet.
An investigation by the Civil Aviation Administration of China found that the first officer was trying to hide the fact that he had been smoking an electronic cigarette in the cockpit of the flight captain. And instead of turning off a fan to prevent the vapors from reaching the passenger cabin, he turned off the air conditioning of the passengers.
In reaction to an alarm caused by the shutdown of the air conditioner, the flight crew released the emergency oxygen masks from the plane and started a descent to a lower altitude with breathing air.
The crew returned to normal cruising altitude once it was discovered that the air conditioner had been turned off. Eventually, the flight landed safely in Dalian at 10:29 p.m.
Regarding the incident, Air China said it had a “zero tolerance” policy for such behavior. In fact, China’s aviation regulations totally prohibit the use of electronic cigarettes in the cabin, and the state authority is conducting an investigation on flight CA106. It is not yet clear what kind of punishment the pilot will face.
Although not as harmful as real cigarettes, electronic cigarettes or vapes can also produce “unacceptably dangerous” levels of formaldehyde and other potentially carcinogenic compounds.